In recognition of many local, national and international issues impacting the Brown community, many gathered on the steps of the Stephen Robert ’62 Campus Center to assert the University’s support and dedication to intersectionality.
At the event, community members discussed the incidents of homophobic and anti-Semitic graffiti in Hegeman Hall, the international Coronavirus outbreak, tensions between Iran and the United States and changing immigration policies.
The gathering, which was organized by the Office of the Chaplains and Religious Life, featured speakers from several prominent offices across campus.
President Christina Paxson P’19, Vice President for Institutional Equity and Diversity Shontay Delalue and Vice President for Campus Life Eric Estes also attended the gathering.
“For me, it’s nice that we’re gathered here, in this Green, near these steps, because this is where we oftentimes gather together, and (it’s) a place that marks our campus community,” said Dean of the College Rashid Zia ’01. “I don’t want to underestimate the challenges that we face — as individuals, as a community, as a campus, as a nation, around the world — but I also don’t want us all to underestimate the power of our community and of our shared values.”
In her speech, Associate Dean of the Graduate School Vanessa Ryan noted that she has been struck by the way graduate students care for one another, for undergraduates and for all members of the University community. “Our graduate students are real tremendous forces of strength on this campus and in our community,” Ryan said.
On behalf of the Undergraduate Council of Students and as a student himself, UCS President William Zhou ’20 expressed solidarity with all individuals and communities been impacted by recent international events and hate incidents on campus. “It’s important to have moments like these where we can celebrate the diversity of experiences and the diversity of backgrounds that really make this community so special,” he said. “We must come together to support one another (and) to love one another.”
In a Feb. 7 Today @ Brown announcement, Delalue and Estes wrote that “in times of such importance, the Brown community has also gathered as a whole to demonstrate our shared commitment to supporting one another and honoring each other’s humanity.”
Chaplain of the University Janet Cooper Nelson said that the gathering was not meant to be an occasion of somberness, but rather an articulation of hope. She referenced Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum’s discussion of racial psychology at the Feb. 11 Martin Luther King Jr. lecture, reiterating Tatum’s allusion to the Bryan Stevenson quote: “Injustice persists where hopelessness prevails.”
“There is no place at Brown for any lack of compassion, for any failure on our part to assert the decency of all humanity,” Nelson said. She emphasized that when someone is afraid, we should open our hearts to them as a University community and say, “We will go with you towards justice (and) in hope.”
Dean of Students Koren Bakkegard said that in difficult times of trial and tribulation, she turns to poetry — specifically, Marge Piercy. She read stanzas from Piercy’s “The Art of Blessing the Day” at the event: “What we want to change we curse and then pick up a tool. Bless whatever you can with eyes and hands and tongue. If you can’t bless it, get ready to make it new.”
Regarding the homophobic and anti-Semitic graffiti in Hegeman Hall, Director of the LGBTQ Center Kelly Garrett said, “These are serious incidents that foster an environment of uncertainty and fear, not only within that space but across campus.”
“Beyond the graffiti, I recognize that there are many national and global events that may be causing a lot of stress and distractions right now,” she added. “This is a good time to remember that none of us can deal with everything on our own.”
Garrett encouraged all students to reach out to campus resources with any worries or concerns. “I’m available for all students to help guide you,” she said, noting that, while she is the “primary contact person” for LGBTQ+ issues, “anybody can come up and find me. It doesn’t matter what the issue is, I would really like to support you.”
In honor of Black History Month, Garrett also highlighted Bayard Rustin as a leader to look towards. “If I do not fight bigotry wherever it is, bigotry is thereby strengthened,” she quoted from Rustin near the end of her speech.
Associate Chaplain and Rabbi at Hillel Rabbi Michelle Dardashti shared a favorite teaching of hers by Hasidic Rabbi Nachman of Breslov: “The entire world is a narrow bridge, but the most important thing is never to be afraid.” Dardashti also invited all community members to the Brown/RISD Hillel for Friday night dinner regardless of religious identification.
Following her speech, several students joined Dardshati in song.
Nelson concluded the gathering saying that the community must stand together. “It is important for people not to feel separated.”